September 19, 2003

Taking Over the Family Business

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Mick Razzano has a tattoo on his right forearm that says, in Italian, “My dear family.”

“It’s just a representation of where I come from and how important my family is to me,” he said. “It’s just a phrase, but it keeps everything in mind.”

To Razzano, there is nothing more important than family, a list that certainly includes football.

“They’re the most important thing. My parents, my grandparents, my aunts, my uncles, they didn’t miss a game. They’re always in the stands at 10 o’clock in the morning waiting for us to come out. I love the game but I do it for them too,” Razzano said. “It wouldn’t be anything close to the same without my whole family being in the stands for the game.”

After serving as the backup to Ricky Rahne ’02 for three years, Razzano finally came to the forefront last season, taking over the starting job. As he enters this, his fifth year of eligibility, Razzano is ready to take the lessons he has learned to heart and lead the Red to a coveted Ivy League championship.

Leadership is nothing new to Razzano, who feels that it is part of his job description to inspire his teammates.

“Being the quarterback of a team, you really can’t ask for anything more. You have to be the leader. You’re in charge of the team,” he said. “Obviously, a lot of the glory comes with the position, but a lot of the blame comes with it too. Things that you have to be willing, able to deal with, and accept.”

With that attitude, it’s no surprise that Razzano took it in stride when he was named a co-captain this spring.

“I am the captain, but the quarterback has to be the captain anyway. Regardless of being chosen as captain, you have to be the leader anyway. So, it’s not really as big a change for me,” he said. “I had to be a leader last year without being a captain.”

And last year, despite lacking the official title of “captain,” Razzano was a highly effective leader for the Red. He also established himself as a player capable of coming through in the clutch. In all four of the Red’s wins last season, Razzano engineered the game-winning drives within the final two minutes of regulation or overtime.

One of these such games was Cornell’s come-from behind victory last Nov. 16 at Columbia in the second to last game of the season. After falling behind 14-10 with less than four minutes left, things looked dire for Razzano and the Red. Facing a fourth-and-17, Razzano launched his longest pass of the year, a 44-yard bullet to the outstretched arms of then-junior receiver John Kellner to give Cornell a first down on the Lions’ 22. Five plays later, Razzano connected with Kellner again to put the Red in front, 17-14, with 25 seconds to go.

“There’s no better feeling than that, being able to lead your team and work as a team and just get the job done,” Razzano recalled. “That Columbia game coming off the field, you can’t even describe it.”

While the win over Columbia may have been the one that reaffirmed the Red’s status as the “cardiac kids,” it was just one example of Razzano’s late-game prowess.

After trailing for nearly the entire game last Oct. 26 at Brown, Razzano led an 11-play, 66-yard drive that culminated in a 15-yard touchdown run by tailback Marcus Blanks with just 52 seconds remaining on the clock. Then sophomore Trevor MacMeekin sealed the with with a 42-yard field goal in the second overtime.

“There was a lot of traffic going to the game from our hotel in the morning. It was pouring rain, and there was traffic. We got to the stadium maybe less than an hour before kickoff. Usually, our whole pregame is an hour. So we were way behind. Some guys weren’t even dressed yet,” recalls Razzano of the game. “I guess we were just ready to play, because everything was out of whack. We went out there and we had a double overtime win, and it was just amazing to see Trevor kick that field goal.”

Yet another game sticks out in the memory of quarterbacks coach Brandon Stott.

“Towson last year [was memorable], just because we jumped on them, and they responded and came back. He led the team in overtime, had a big run that helped set up the win for us,” Stott said. “I think he grew up a lot in that game against a good defense.”

Instances such as these are indicative of Razzano’s rapid progression from raw, inexperienced talent to a more refined, intelligent, and complete player.

“Mick is no longer that freshman he was a year ago,” said head coach Tim Pendergast. “Mick is playing like a senior right now, he is making outstanding decisions with the ball.”

Stott, Razzano’s position coach, agreed.

“A few years ago, he was just out there being a good athlete with a strong arm, and not really being a quarterback,” he said. “Now, he’s truly being a quarterback and reading the defense and doing all the other really great things.”

Razzano’s rise to the pinnacle of Cornell athletic renown was far from meteoric. The native of South River, N.J. starred on the gridiron as a high schooler, playing quarterback, linebacker, and safety at Bishop Ahr High School. As a high school senior, he was named first-team all-area and all-division.

But the accolades did not continue when he arrived on the Hill. With Rahne calling the plays for the Red, playing time was hard to come by for Razzano. The senior, however, hung tough. He saw game action for the first time during the 1999 season, completing three of four attempts for 40 yards. Razzano saw some more time in 2001, Rahne’s senior year, completing 7-for-12 for 97 yards.

Once he took over the starting role last year, though, his progression was quickly apparent. Starting all 10 games for the Red, Razzano passed for 1,556 yards and seven touchdowns. Perhaps even more important than the numbers he put up were the lessons he learned from last season’s co-captains, Nathan Archer ’03 and Nate Spitler ’03.

“I’m sure he learned from Archer and Spitler, I’m sure he had to learn,” Pendergast said. “But I’m sure when his teammates voted him as captain, he [took a deep breath] and went, ‘Okay, they’re calling me out now.'”

Razzano’s teammates echoed the coach’s sentiments.

“You look for someone in a captain that doesn’t have to change their personality to be a captain,” Kellner said. “Mick is a leader — a natural leader. He’s someone that we all look up to and want to play for since he’s stepped onto campus.”

Kellner’s relationship with Razzano will be crucial to the team’s success this season. As a wide receiver, Kellner’s effectiveness is intricately related to Razzano’s.

“A lot of quarterbacking and receiving comes down to just knowing each other well. You can run a perfect route, and have a perfect pass, and it might not be a perfect play,” Kellner said. “It comes down to being able to know where Mick is going to be at a certain time, and he knows where we’re going to be at a certain time. And that continuity is what you look for. In your second year, it’s something that should be a given, and something we should be able to do all year.”

Equally as important as Razzano’s synergy with his receivers is his relationship with the offensive line.

“Those are my lifesavers, those are my protectors,” Razzano said. “Those guys in the trenches never get enough credit and should get more credit. They’re the guys who do the work, and they aren’t as seen and it isn’t as glorified for them.”

Razzano has high expectations for this year’s edition of the Red. Now in Pendergast’s third year at the helm, the offensive pieces appear to be in place for Cornell to make a serious run at an Ivy title.

“After a whole season and spring ball and now camp, we’re obviously a lot more comfortable than we were before the first game,” Razzano said. “Everything from calling the play in the huddle to executing the play right on the field, we’re throwing a lot better now. It’s the same offensive line. Everybody from the offensive line is back, so that makes it a lot easier. We’re playing more as a unit than we’ve played obviously in the past year and a half.”

Once again, the team’s primary target will be Ivy rival Penn, who beat the Red, 31-0, in last season’s final game to clinch an undefeated conference season and the Ivy title.

“We obviously want to beat all our Ivy League opponents,” said Razzano. “I would say the Penn game [is the one we want the most]. That’s always been our rivalry. The last time we beat them was my freshman year. I’m the only one who’s been able to experience beating Penn, to know what it is to beat them. That would just be the perfect ending.”

Archived article by Owen Bochner